Detroit Regional Chamber > Chamber > Insider: Detroit Chamber Urges Democrats in Lansing to Govern Michigan From the Middle

Insider: Detroit Chamber Urges Democrats in Lansing to Govern Michigan From the Middle

December 5, 2022

The Detroit News
Dec. 4, 2022
Beth LeBlanc, Melissa Nann Burke, Craig Mauger, and Chad Livengood

The Detroit Regional Chamber on Wednesday urged the Legislature’s incoming Democratic and Republican leaders to “govern from the broad center” and focus efforts in the new session on business attraction, work skills development and education improvement.

The letter from Detroit chamber president and CEO Sandy Baruah was addressed to House Speaker-elect Joe Tate, D-Detroit; Senate Majority Leader-elect Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, Senate Republican leader-elect Aric Nesbitt of Lawton and House Republican leader-elect Matt Hall of Comstock Township.

“Washington continues to set a poor example for civility, productivity, and efficiency. In Michigan, we can do better — and you can lead the way in the new legislature,” Baruah wrote to the new Legislature, which will have Democratic majorities in the House and Senate for the first time in 40 years.

Photo courtesy of the Detroit News.

Baruah‘s letter urged the Legislature to “rack up some early bipartisan wins” by promoting economic growth through a sustainable funding source for the state’s year-old business incentive program, the Strategic Opportunity and Attraction Reserve fund; support for electric vehicle infrastructure; increased investment in the talent development fund Going PRO; and reforms and reinvestment in K-12 and higher education.

Baruah, who served in Republican President George W. Bush’s administration and fashions himself as a centrist, also advocated for “equitable opportunity” by increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit and explicitly including the LGBTQ community in Michigan’s anti-discrimination law, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that the civil rights law’s protections from discrimination based on sex extended to protections for gay people, and an earlier lower court opinion said the protections from discrimination based on gender included transgender individuals.

Baruah said amending the civil rights law with specific protections for gay and transgender individuals for employment and housing would “send a welcoming message that all hard-working and talented individuals are welcome.”

McMorrow Speaks at Gridiron Dinner

Democratic State Sen. Mallory McMorrow of Royal Oak spoke Saturday night in Washington at the winter Gridiron Club dinner, becoming the first state lawmaker to do so since Barack Obama in 2004. A rising star in her party, McMorrow poked fun at rumors she might run for president as Obama went on to do.

“Based on President Obama’s trajectory, I’m really worried about what’s coming next. That some enterprising reporter — and there might be a few of them in this room,” she told the gathering of journalists, “you’re gonna dig up my birth certificate. So I just want to clear the air right now: I was born in New Jersey. Sorry.”

Mallory McMorrow

Photo courtesy of the Detroit News.

McMorrow, 35, gained national attention earlier this year after a Senate floor speech denouncing a Republican candidate’s “groomer” claims went viral on YouTube.

“Let’s be real. The only reason that any of you even know who I am is because I gave a speech about putting an end to performative nonsense,” McMorrow said. “Somehow, that earned me an invitation to this dinner, which as far as I can tell, is devoted solely to performative nonsense.”

That line might have elicited the loudest laughs of the night in the room, since Gridiron dinners involve clever and silly skits and songs parodying newsmakers.

McMorrow also had a few zingers for the GOP, with the ginger-haired lawmaker saying she’d done her hair especially for the night for Republicans because “I wanted you to actually see a red wave.”

She also gave a shoutout to the expertise of Gridiron Club President Tom DeFrank, a biographer of former President Gerald Ford, the only president produced by Michigan, who assumed the presidency “without anyone voting for him.”

“I know a guy in Palm Beach would be very interested to hear about that,” McMorrow said.

“Let’s go back for a minute to when the club was founded in 1885. The economy was in a recession. Abortion was criminalized. And a president from New York was gearing up to serve non-consecutive terms,” she added, a reference to Democrat Grover Cleveland. “Different times.”

The night’s Republican speaker was Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, whom McMorrow noted had made headlines as U.S. attorney for going up against a group of white supremacists. “Kevin McCarthy wants to know: What’s your secret?” she said.

McCann to be Democratic House Speaker’s Press Secretary

Amber McCann, who was the spokeswoman for multiple Republican state Senate majority leaders, will serve as the press secretary for Tate, the new Democratic speaker of the house from Detroit.

Tate’s office announced McCann’s position on Friday. She had most recently been the communications director for Attorney General Dana Nessel, who’s a Democrat.

In 2021, McCann moved from working for Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey’s office to Nessel’s office. McCann previously worked under former Republican Senate majority leaders Mike Bishop, Randy Richardville and Arlan Meekhof.

Tate will lead the new Democratic majority in the state House beginning in January. He also has hired Shaquila Myers, a senior adviser to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, to be his chief of staff. Myers’ departure from the governor’s office was one of multiple staff changes Whitmer announced on Friday.

Hertel Desk to Remain in Lansing

Outgoing state Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., a Democrat from East Lansing, has told this story to practically anyone who has entered his office during his final term in the Senate — and now we’re telling you because it’s a nice story with a happy ending.

His late father is Curtis Hertel Sr., a longtime Michigan lawmaker who was speaker of the house in the mid-1990s. The elder Hertel passed away on Easter Sunday in 2016.

A year later, on Good Friday in 2017, a constituent walked into Hertel Jr.’s office seeking advice on government procurement. According to Hertel, the man talked about his love of history and mentioned how he recently bought a desk on Craigslist that belonged to a speaker of the house in the 1990s.

“I said, ‘Do you have a picture of it?’” Hertel recalled. “So he shows me the picture and I cleaned my dad’s desk out. It was my dad’s desk.”

Curtis Hertel Jr.

Photo courtesy of the Detroit News.

Hertel doesn’t know what happened to his dad’s desk after Curtis Hertel Sr. left office at the end of 1998. But he immediately offered to buy the desk.

“I gave him $200, he gave me the desk and so I sit at my dad’s desk every day,” Hertel said.

Hertel said the chance encounter with a guy who found his dad’s desk almost exactly one year after his death “was one of the weirdest things in my entire life.”

Although Hertel is leaving office at year’s end, the Hertel desk is not leaving the Binsfeld Office Building where senators have their offices across Allegan Street from the Capitol.

His younger brother, Rep. Kevin Hertel, D-St. Clair Shores, was elected to a Senate seat stretching along the shores of Lake St. Clair from Grosse Pointe Park to Algonac.

Kevin Hertel’s Senate race against Republican Rep. Pam Hornberger was not decided until the morning after the Nov. 8 election. He won by 404 votes.

“When Kevin finally won, I was able to tell him I’m going to let him use dad’s desk for the next four years, eight years,” Curtis Hertel Jr. said.